My business utilises a number of different IT systems. What is the difference between interfacing and integrating these systems and which option is the best?

A single stock database is invaluable

Stock management is a good way to illustrate the  differences between interfacing and integrating systems. An interfaced solution may include product files in two separate locations being used by different systems. Once an item has been purchased in store, it will be recognised by the shop’s product file.

However, this information won’t be fed back to the central database until overnight, leading to difficulties if someone tries to buy the same product online before the stock update takes place.

An integrated solution has a single database, and this single view of stock is invaluable, especially in today’s multichannel environment, where retailers need to have the right products at the right prices available in the right channel to meet their customers’ needs, says Alan Morris, co-founder and managing director of IT services and solutions company Retail Assist.

However, he says, simply interfacing systems require less time and manpower than fully integrating them. Integrating complex applications such as EPoS require much effort. “In its raw form, EPoS data can look strange and, to people who are not used to it, wrong and inconsistent,” he adds.

To make integration work, the retailer and supplier must define the requirements and plan the implementation. Morris says: “To decide between interfacing and integrating your systems, you need to assess the resources, but bear in mind that poor interfacing may result in additional expenditure.”